During my 10-day visit to Alberta, Canada last July to support the Through Each Others Eyes cultural photography exchange, my right pointer finger enthusiastically clicked the shutter over 4400 times. While it was thrilling at the time to blast away at seemingly anything and everything that caught my eye, it created a gi-normous pile o’pixels I must now wade through to select a mere 20 photographs to display for the upcoming exhibition. For the non-math majors in the crowd, that means picking out the top 0.5%! YIKES!
Out of the thousands of images we might capture during a photographic outing, how do we decide which ones to keep and which ones to throw out? No doubt, editing and critiquing our own photos can seem like an arduous quest – one that has no right or wrong answers – but here are some tips to help you identify your “keepers” in your collection:
- Get organized. Invest in an image management software like Adobe Bridge, Adobe Lightroom, Apple Aperture, or the applications that arrived with your camera on a disc (e.g. Nikon Capture or Canon Digital Pro Photo) to help establish a centralized location to easily and consistently conduct your self-critique.
- Bury your obvious screw-ups. We all got ‘em, but the world doesn’t need to know about ‘em! (Thank goodness we don’t track batting averages in photography!) Once you’ve downloaded your images into your chosen software, liberally use the delete key to immediately eliminate frames that are out of focus, badly composed, poorly lit, unintentionally overexposed, and severely underexposed.
- Form a first impression. Scan your images quickly for “keepers.” Simply make a snap decision as to whether your eyes enjoy the photograph or not. Mark any frame you like (e.g. using the star rating in Adobe Bridge) to tag it for future in-depth analysis.
Unplug your emotions. Like your mother told you growing up, first impressions aren’t always correct. After doing an initial evaluation, let your images “rest” for a day, a week, or even a few months to disconnect emotionally from your photographs. Once you’re back in the saddle, turn your flagged images upside-down so they are less recognizable to your brain and therefore less connected with your recollection of the influential experiences you had while making the shot.
- Get out the butcher knife. Start hacking away on the technical aspects of your image. Does the scene convey a sense of depth through the chosen depth of field? Is the horizon level and positioned away from the middle of the rectangular box? Could you simplify the composition withou
t losing context? Is the light illuminating the subject matter and helping to create shape, depth, and contrast? Are there any overly bright areas or out of focus areas that are distracting to the eye?
- Say something different. A technically-perfect image might feel boring and be ineffective in visually communicating your desired message. Viewers will react to your images if they contain subjects and stories that are clear, fresh, intriguing, emotionally-charged, or even controversial. Does your photograph showcase an unrepeatable moment? Does it convey a specific mood? Will your capture provoke thought, dig up memories, or spark new meaning with your viewers?
Remember, “To each their own.” What may be the “best” photo for one audience may not be for another so you might find yourself keeping different photos for differing purposes. For example, you may capture a pleasing iconic Grand Canyon shot good enough to hang on your wall because it reminds you of your last family vacation but not appropriate to send to a magazine who isn’t interested in publishing a story on the “big ditch” in the next 100 years.
- Get a brutally honest second opinion. Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, hand your butcher knife to a trusted friend, family member, or photographer who will gladly use the blade on your work. Listening to others’ insights can help trigger new ideas and highlight aspects you might not have previously considered.
While assessing your own work can be a time consuming, grueling task, being a harsh critic can help not only pick out the winners from your digital dump, but also refine your photographic techniques and polish your unique creative vision over time.
By using this process, my Alberta pixel pile yielded a 20-print story I can’t wait to share at my upcoming exhibition. And the images in this post did NOT make the cut (even though I like them!)! In my next blog post, I’ll give you a sneak peek into one photo that did!
If you’d like to see the other 19 I selected, as well as the photographs from my fellow Arizona-Alberta exchange partners-in-crime – Ken Ross, Peter Carroll, and Royce Howland – then please join us on November 7 from 7-9 pm at the Art Intersection Gallery in Gilbert, Arizona for our exhibition’s Artist Reception. For more information, please visit www.teoe.org/?page_id=829.